The newborn baby is primed for breastfeeding at birth. An understanding of the newborn reflexes and how they can assist with breastfeeding can be an advantage in initiating and establishing breastfeeding.

  • Rooting Reflex- Touching the baby’s cheek or corner of mouth will elicit the rooting reflex, where the infant is seen to turn her head towards the stimulus. At the same time, her mouth will gape wide, her head will tilt upwards and her tongue will drop from the roof of her mouth in preparation to breastfeed. This reflex is designed to help the infant to locate the nipple to begin feeding and becomes stronger with the passage of time from about 32 weeks gestation.

The natural position of the tongue in a crying infant is high against the palate and if a crying infant is brought to the breast when crying, this will inhibit the rooting reflex. It is preferable to first settle the infant and stimulate the rooting reflex to ensure successful breastfeeding.

  • Sucking Reflex- Stimulation of the hard palate and transfer of liquid into her mouth will elicit the suck reflex, where the tongue is moved to the back of the mouth to enable swallowing. Although the reflex is present from 24 weeks gestation, it strengthens with time. At 28 weeks it has developed into a suck/swallow/breathe cycle and by 32 weeks the infant will start to co ordinate the cycle. The level of co ordination required to sustain breastfeeding usually is not fully present until 37 weeks so infants at lower gestations may require oral or nasogastric feeding as well as feeding directly from the breast.
  • Tongue Thrust Reflex- This allows the infant to introduce the nipple into her mouth. It is elicited through touching the lips, which results in the extension of the tongue outside of the mouth to introduce the nipple.
  • Gag Reflex- Contraction of the muscles of the soft palate when the soft palate and back of the tongue are stimulated.